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Moving Ahead On City Utilities

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials have been patient regarding repairs and upgrades they want the city of St. Clairsville to make to its water and sewer systems. For a few months, it may have seemed to them that the waiting was nearly over.

Voters had something else in mind. It changed everything. In some ways, the process of complying with OEPA mandates has been set back by months.

Late last year, it appeared that then-Mayor Terry Pugh and St. Clairsville City Council were on the verge of selling the water and sewer systems to a private company, Aqua Ohio. Then the municipal election was held and, in what clearly was a referendum on the utility proposal, Pugh was defeated.

Now a new leader, Mayor Kathryn Thalman — whose campaign was centered on criticism of the privatization plan — is in office. She wants more information on the pros and cons of selling the utilities or keeping them under municipal government.

During their meeting Monday, city council members were told the OEPA has been preparing orders regarding the water and sewer systems. Within a few days, St. Clairsville officials should have an idea of precisely what it is the OEPA is insisting be done, city Safety and Service Director Jim Zucal said.

Normally, such orders carry with them deadlines for compliance. Let us hope the OEPA sets realistic ones.

St. Clairsville officials need time to learn more about privatizing vs. retaining the utilities, in order to make an informed decision on the matter. A first step in that should be commissioning an independent study of the situation, by experts.

Conducting the study will take time. So will discussing the results and devising an action plan. Implementing it will not happen immediately.

City officials should provide a show of good faith in the form of agreeing to have that study done, as soon as possible. If OEPA officials see the new administration is serious about finding an answer to the problem, they are more likely to be flexible in any deadlines. For the good of St. Clairsville residents, more patience on the part of state officials would be appropriate.

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